While social intelligence is defined as one’s capacity for interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence relates to one’s awareness of one’s own emotions and ability to show empathy and understanding of the emotions of others. Social workers are typically called on to employ both aspects of intelligence in their casework. Oftentimes, social and emotional intelligence can be related to cultural factors. Social workers must have a high social and emotional intelligence quotient to communicate effectively with clients and to recognize how culture shapes individuals. For example, in the case of Andres, the social worker handling his case recognized that cultural factors were inhibiting his ability to lead a meaningful and productive life after his diagnosis and subsequent health decline.
As a financially successful male from Honduras, Andres had always assumed the patriarchal role of household manager. When his condition forced him to be dependent on others for support, he found that his notions about what it meant to be the man in the family, i.e., the provider, prohibited him from seeking help for his condition, though he clearly required such help. The social worker used social and emotional intelligence to empathize with Andres’ position, which often meant seeing things from his perspective. By doing this, the social worker was able to understand the depth of Andres’ aversion to seeking help and work with him regarding ways to address this aversion, such as identifying the aspects of Andres’ life that he was able to exert independence instead of focusing on those in which he could not.
Thus, Andres began to break down some of the communication barriers that prohibited him from asking for help. In general, social workers can apply social and emotional intelligence in many ways in practice. For example, if a client were to come in seeking treatment but exhibited rude and inappropriate behavior, one can employ social and emotional intelligence to take the time to understand the individual’s perspective and the social, psychological, and cultural reasons behind why the individual acted out in the manner that he did. Once the reasons behind the behavior became apparent, the social worker could help address those issues instead of the resulting behavior. Without social and emotional intelligence, the social worker may take offense to the behavior and present a discourteous front in return.
- “Working with Clients with Disabilities: The Case of Andres.” Class handout.